Heroes and rascals, shipwrecks and lost gold: Strange but true stories and secrets of Oregon's wild past | Offbeat Oregon History The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 While doing some cleaning-up around the Odd Fellows Hall in Scio, a local girl found a tiny coffin with this partial skeleton inside. Whose? We'll probably never know ... (Story No. 204, Oct. 14, 2012) The ever-elusive D.B. Cooper peeks into the page from behind his signature shades. The story of his skyjacking exploit starts with episode 237, from June 2, 2013. Meet Kitty Kat, the wealthiest feline in the state of Oregon and landlord to the City of Tangent. Kitty Kat, until he died at a ripe old age in 1995, owned City Hall. (Story No. 163, Jan. 8, 2012) This crazy-looking speedboat was the invention of Portland wizard Victor Strode. The city commissioned a harbor patrol boat based on his design, but it didn't work out. (Story No. 201, Sept. 23, 2012) The Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (now known as Osho -- yes, THAT Osho) as he appeared when he lived in Wasco County with his followers. That's also him in the white Rolls-Royce surrounded by followers, in a scene from Rajneeshpuram. (Four-part story starts with Column No. 73, May 9, 2010 This is the roof of the Franz Bread Rest Hut at Pixieland, the Oregon Coast's ill-starred answer to Disneyland, which opened in 1969 and went out of biz in 1974. The Rest Hut consisted of a giant fiberglass loaf of bread sticking out of the top of this giant fiberglass hollow log, the whole thing towering over a log-flume roller coaster ride. It's probably the most campily awesome example of the proud display of crass commercialism that was Pixieland. (Column No. 52 - Dec. 6, 2009)
2012 articles 2012 articles About Offbeat Oregon 2012 articles 2011 articles 2010 articles 2008-2009 articles About me Store (the Finn J.D. John Centre for Crass Commercialism and Filthy Lucre)
z

you just might ALSO
enjoy ...

This cover illustration from "Masked Rider Western," published in 1950, bears an uncanny resemblance to the events that kicked off Vigilante rule in Crook County.

When prineville was ruled by masked vigilante riders

In Crook County, the early 1880s were like a Louis L'Amour novel. And it all started with the lynching of an innocent man.


The classic melodrama villain, with sleek silk hat and waxed handlebar mustache, in the act of evicting the poor widow and children from their freshly foreclosed family homestead. Except for the mustache, Oregon's longest-serving 19th-century senator fit the trope with remarkable precision.

Senator John H. Mitchell: Oregon's own real-life Snidely Whiplash

He abandoned his family, changed his name, moved to Oregon, bilked widows and orphans in two big real-estate swindles ... and was promptly elected to Congress.


The skull of the skeleton found in the Odd Fellows hall in Scio, which is now at Oregon State University. The skeleton was that of a hard-working man who died sometime between 1860 and 1890.

Mysterious skeletons of Oregon: If these bones could talk ...

A long-dead dry-land homesteader ... a medical specimen in an Odd Fellows lodge ... what are their stories? We'll never know.


Oregon inventor Victor Strode’s revolutionary boat, the 'aerohydrocraft,' made the front cover of the March 1931 issue of Popular Science. The design didn't prove a useful one for the City of Portland, though, and the larger model the city commissioned to function as a harbor police boat didn't work out.

Buck Rogers-style police boat didn't work out for city of Portland

A local inventor developed the "aerohydrocraft" design in the early 1930s. But when the city built one as an ambulance boat, it flopped.


The remains of the barque Peter Iredale as they appear today, jutting out of the beach sands on Clatsop Spit at Warrenton as they have since 1906. In 1960, the wreck nearly was lost to a man who claimed he owned it.

How the Oregon Coast almost lost the Peter Iredale to a scrap-metal shark

An Oregon City man claimed he'd inherited the rights from his father, and demanded to be allowed to cut it up and haul it away. He almost got away with this little swindle.


Commander Dave Scott salutes the U.S. flag, which has just been planted on the surface of the moon. A small piece of Oregon lava rock, carried to the moon by Scott's fellow astronaut Jim Irwin, lies within this photo, next to one of the many bootprints. (Image: NASA)

There's a piece of lava from central oregon in this photo, on the moon.

It was left there by astronaut Jim Irwin at the request of a friend from Bend — who gave him a sliver of Oregon lava to leave on the moon's surface. And so he did.


The Motel 6 on Mission Street in Salem as it appeared in the mid-1970s, when Carl Cletus Bowles made his run from its back door. Don't laugh, at least not too loudly ... two innocent people would die before Bowles was back in prison.

Killer broke out of state prison during a conjugal visit at a nearby Motel 6

It had to be the most awkward prison-break scenario in the history of the universe. But it really did happen. Here's the story.


James Lappeus, former Portland Chief of Police. He eventually was fired over allegations that he'd offered to 'accidentally' leave the jailhouse door open for a convicted murderer if his wife paid a $1,000 bribe.

gambler, swindler, gunfighter, liquor man ... oh, and also police chief.

James Lappeus came to Portland to open a saloon and "theater." Despite his checkered past — or maybe because of it — he was named city marshal and, later, Chief of Police. Here's the story.


Boats of the Astoria fishing fleet, with the help of both wind and incoming tide, race away from the dangers of the Columbia River Bar in this postcard image from around the turn of the century.

When fishing was so deadly, one in 15 didn't survive the season.

They drifted downstream in heavy 24-foot boats with their nets out ... and prayed the tide would turn before they got sucked out onto the bar. Here's the story.


This postcard picture of Cannon Beach was created in 1966, which means just off to the left of the frame is a beach with a fence around it and "no trespassing" signs.

HOW OREGON ALMOST LOST PUBLIC ACCESS TO ITS BEACHES

A Portland real-estate guy found a loophole in the law and claimed a patch of beach for his own, and his friends in the state Legislature tried to keep it that way. Here's the story.


A color lithograph of George and Kate Ann Williams’s Victorian  mansion, located at 18th and Couch streets downtown.

This spooky-looking Portland mansion was home of a 'starvation cult'

A prominent Portland socialite led a sect called "Truth," with the motto "Pray and Be Cured," that required 40-day fasts. It vanished after its leader starved herself to death during a 110-day fast. Here's the story.


The archway monument leading up to the Wallowa County Courthouse,  built in 1936. The bronze plaque on the inside left of the arch includes  the name of murderer and horse thief Bruce “Blue” Evans.

A monument in honor of a horse thief and mass murderer?

Bruce "Blue" Evans led the gang that slaughtered over 30 innocent Chinese miners in 1887. So why is his name celebrated on a monument to Wallowa County Pioneers? Probably because they didn't know. Here's the story.


Title screen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mel Blanc, the legendary Looney Toons voice man, grew up in Portland.

The voice of Bugs Bunny went to high school in Portland

Legendary Hollywood voice man Mel Blanc's teachers weren't too impressed with his voice talents, but Oregon radio listeners and cartoon fans sure were. Here's the story.


Three Rocks Beach, Camp Westwind, the mouth of the Salmon River and Cascade  Head as they appear today.

Is there pirate loot buried at this YWCA youth camp?

The discovery of a giant skeleton in the 1930s suggested that the old Indian legend of a pirate ship sinking in the Salmon River might be true ... or maybe not. Here's the story.


This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose?. Here's the story.


The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.

sHE DIED AROUND 1874. SO WHY DOES THE GRAVESTONE SAY SHE WAS A SLAVE?

Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.


Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).


Vaudeville's famous Klondike Kate became a Central Oregon legend

central oregon's most fabulous homesteader ever.

Homesteader Kitty "Klondike Kate" Rockwell, retired from the bright lights of Vaudeville, often wore full costume just to weed the garden. Here's the story.


Goal of Oregon whale hunters: Grow fur coats, and put a man on the moon.

helping put a man on the moon, one dead whale at a time?

Whale oil is special stuff, and NASA needed it for the space program. So an Astoria group launched a whaling venture in the early 1960s. Here's the story.


Early Oregon 'holy roller' cult ended in murder, suicide, insanity

THE holy-roller "NAKED LADIES' CULT" IN CORVALLIS and waldport.

It started out as a church seeking perfect holiness and Godliness. It ended in murder, insanity and chaos — and, yes, rumors of naked ladies. Check out the full story (in two parts).


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

mariner's spooky nightmare came true the next day

In his dream, the first mate of the German barque Mimi saw seaweed covering all but three shipmates. The next day, all but three drowned in one of Oregon's worst-ever salvage disasters. Here's the story.


Florence's famous exploding whale: A highway engineer didn't know how much dynamite to use, so he guessed ... and guessed wrong.

Whale explodes: Details at 11.

The highway department guy didn't know how much dynamite to use, and said so on camera. But he still thinks the operation was a success. Check out the story of Florence's famous exploding whale ...


The Glenesslin, under almost full sail, grinds against the rocks at the base of Neahkahnie Mountain.

was this shipwreck insurance fraud or just drunken incompetence?

On a beautiful clear October day, astonished beach-goers watched a big windjammer simply turn and sail straight into the side of a mountain. Why would her crew do such a thing? Here's the story.


.44-caliber Colt Dragoon revolver, designed in 1848.

gold-rush bandits hunted down and killed ... but where was their loot?

No one has ever found it — or if they have, they've been awfully discreet. The Triskett Gang had stolen it hours earlier from the assaying depot in the town of Sailors' Diggins. Here's the story.


Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Jim Turk: shanghaiier, swindler, drunkard, millionaire

The old Portland shanghai scene's 'original gangster' was a mysterious character. Did he really inherit $30,000? If not, where did the money come from?

A drawing published in 1889 showing the intersection of Front and C
streets; C street has since been renamed Couch. Jim Turk’s sailor
boardinghouse was located on C Street between Front and First, a half-
block beyond the right-hand side of this image. (Image: The West Shore)

The “shanghai artists” of old Portland and Astoria were all a fairly secretive lot. But none of them were more mysterious, in quite so many ways, as the man who started the whole shanghaiing scene in Oregon — a burly, hard-fisted bar fighter named Jim Turk.

Jim Turk was a slum lord who lived in his own slum, a drunken brawler who got hauled into court for battery dozens of times, an abusive husband, a shanghaiier of sailors, a whorehouse operator and a dishonest clothing salesman.

Oh, and he was also the equivalent, in 1880 dollars, of a millionaire.

Here’s Jim’s story, or what we know of it anyway:

Born in England

Jim Turk was born in England in 1832, and the Oregonian reported upon his death that he was “a man of family.” However, he was, by the age of 16, in America and fighting in the Mexican-American war — a very odd thing for a “man of family” to be doing, a bit like a successful lawyer’s son joining the French Foreign Legion today.

By 1866, Turk had gotten married, to a statuesque beauty named Catherine who was at least his equal as a boozer and a brawler, and the two of them had opened a boardinghouse in San Francisco. They had two children, both sons: Charles and Frank.

Then, a few years later, the Turk family suddenly quit San Francisco and moved to Oregon. Jim apparently ran a saloon in Pendleton for a while, then moved to Portland and opened Oregon’s first-ever sailor’s boardinghouse there.

This was an odd thing to do, because Portland at that time was almost exclusively a regional port. It shipped plenty of wheat and other supplies out, all right, but most of it was bound for San Francisco on coastwise freighters, not across the deep blue to Shanghai or Hong Kong. Coastwise sailors didn’t typically use sailors’ boardinghouses.

Whether he was running from something or just making a shrewd business decision, the move paid off handsomely for Turk. As deepwater traffic in the port increased, so did his boardinghouse business, and he soon expanded it into a sort of one-stop shop for sailors, selling oilskins and peacoats and other mariners’ apparel too.

The shanghaiing business

At the time, the sailor’s boardinghouse business, also called the “crimping” business, was one of the most disreputable occupations in society, and with good reason. It was basically a forced-indebtedness scam. Here’s how it worked:

You rented the cheapest building you could find, close to the waterfront, stocked it with crude beds, and invited single men to stay there “on credit.” You marketed it chiefly to sailors, but laid-off loggers and naïve farmers were welcome too. Hobos could avoid getting nicked for vagrancy by checking into your place, so you’d get some of them as well. No money changed hands; it was all on credit.

Then would come a day when one of the ships in the harbor would need sailors, and the men in your boardinghouse — who by now owed you more money than they could pay — would be required to discharge that debt by signing onto that ship. You’d present your bill for room and board to the captain of the ship, who’d pay you and deduct it from the sailor’s wages, and he’d also slip you a bonus, a finder’s fee of sorts, which was commonly called “blood money.”

Of course, you had to be a number-one fighter to make this work, because nobody ever wanted to go to sea. They'd run you down and skip on the bill if you let them. That's why so many boardinghouse operators were active or retired prizefighters.

To keep the boardinghouse full, you’d go out to meet incoming ships, climbing aboard them even before they’d reached the dock, passing bottles around and inviting the sailors to desert the ship and come stay in your place. This practice was initially welcomed by the skippers, because they wouldn’t have to pay the men their wages if they deserted, although by the 1890s that was no longer the case.

On those occasions when a ship needed a crew and your boardinghouse was empty, you’d go out drinking, meet a new friend at the bar and dope his drink. He’d wake up on ship, with his name forged on the ship’s articles and often with a U.S. Marshal standing guard to make sure he didn’t jump overboard and swim to shore before the ship got out to sea. This was, of course, what we know as “shanghaiing.”

Other swindles

Jim Turk and his sons did all these things, although they’d never admit to shanghaiing. They ran some other scams as well; on at least two occasions they sold sailors suits of marine clothing and then secretly stole them back before the ships sailed. The customer was left having paid for clothing he didn’t get, and no way to fix the issue short of diving overboard and becoming a deserter — which one guy actually did.

All these tricks were standard procedure in San Francisco’s colorful Barbary Coast waterfront in the 1860s. Turk simply brought them to Portland and ran the system here, like a new McDonalds franchisee.

The hooligan millionaire

As the 1870s wore on, Turk became a familiar figure in the city courthouse. He loved to drink and he loved to fight, and he was hauled up on battery charges literally dozens of times. Each time, he paid his fines and posted his bail in cash. Turk never seemed to have any trouble with money.

Then, in 1877, an odd little item appeared in the Portland Morning Oregonian:

“A gentleman from San Francisco, by the name of T.J. Zingsen, now stopping at the Norton House, informs us that he came expressly to bring the astonishing news to Mr. James Turk, of the Portland Sailor Boarding House, that he has inherited about 20 or 30,000 pounds, which was left to him some years ago without his knowledge,” the paper remarked.

Turk, sure enough, suddenly started making large purchases. He started by scoring a palatial one-stop sin center called the “Grand Central Variety Saloon,” which appears to have been one of the earliest of the much-maligned “variety theaters” of Portland. These theaters played low-rent Vaudeville shows, after which the actresses would come out and vamp the customers to induce them to buy overpriced drinks. And, as historian Barney Blalock points out, the fact that the Grand Central had 17 rooms in it strongly suggests it was also a bordello.

Turk also bought some land, and a restaurant in Astoria that may or may not have been more than just a restaurant. But his lifestyle didn’t change, and neither did his business practices.

Rumors about Turk

There are rumors about Turk, as there are about the other shanghai men. One claims he shanghaied one of his own sons after the lad started getting into card games, loose women and ready drink. Given Turk’s own predilections for all of these things (except, maybe, the women) this seems rather unlikely.

Even more unlikely is the rumor that one of his shanghaiing victims turned out to be a physician, who came back to Portland singing Turk’s praises because the long sea voyage in clean salt air had cured his tuberculosis. Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the life of an 1880s sailor — especially the cramped, unsanitary forecastle in which they slept — will have a hard time buying this one. Going to sea was how you caught TB, not how you got rid of it.

Remembering Jim Turk

But in 1890, Catherine died. Jim remarried a little later, but his heart wasn’t in the crimping trade any more, and increasingly he left that to his sons. He died five years later on, in Tacoma, at the age of 63.

The Morning Oregonian apparently felt some pressure to say something nice about this freshly-dead thug, but this was no easy task. “While he possessed a rough exterior, he had a great many friends among his own class,” the obit writer managed. “He was generous and would do a friend a good turn, when an appeal to his better nature was made.”

Today, 120 years later, you can almost hear that newsman's teeth grinding as he bangs out those grudging praises.

The mystery of Turk’s money

This “generosity” comment addresses the real mystery of Jim Turk: Where did his money come from? Even before his inheritance (if that’s really what it was), he always seemed to have plenty of it. Was he, perhaps, a remittance man — a son of a wealthy family who, having embarrassed the family beyond redemption by some act, was sent into exile with a monthly cash payment contingent on his never returning to the family home? Perhaps — but he was fighting in the Mexican-American War when he was 16, which means he would have had to commit his great sin at the age of 13 or 14 years; this seems very unlikely.

Then, too, there’s the suspicious vagueness of Mr. Zingsen’s story, told to the Oregonian. Zingsen clearly sought out the Oregonian reporter and told him about this inheritance, which seems like an odd thing to do. Then, in doing so, he names the amount of the inheritance as “20 or 30 thousand pounds” — a strange way for a guy who knows the exact figure to phrase it.

It also seems bizarre that Turk didn’t change his lifestyle in any meaningful way after inheriting this money. He went on brawling, swindling, shanghaiing and stealing, just like before.

And finally, I haven’t found any reference yet that tells whom, specifically, Jim Turk inherited that money from.

So, is it possible that Jim Turk’s money came from somewhere else? Perhaps it was the fruit of some epic swindle perpetrated overseas. Maybe it was the proceeds of a decades-long blackmail scheme that finally ended with a lump-sum payment. Or maybe he’d robbed a payroll train … who knows?

All we can really say is that the pieces don’t all add up. But we can also say, with absolute confidence, that without Jim Turk, Portland would have been a far less colorful place.

(Sources: Blalock, Barney. Portland’s Lost Waterfront. Charleston: The History Press, 2012; Portland Morning Oregonian, 1877-1895; Morning Astorian archives, 1882-1889; Dillon, Richard. Shanghaiing Days. New York: Coward-McCann, 1961)